5 Multisensory Orton-Gillingham Activities to Use in the Classroom

For every student, one of the modalities mentioned in the image above is usually predominant. Some students may prefer to see a visual representation of an image to grasp it, while others may choose to use their hands.

According to Dr. Samuel Orton’s research, brain dominance significantly impacts learning to read. Both hemispheres of the brain act and react, think and process, and solve problems in their own specific and quite different ways, and one side is usually dominant.

A student can capitalize on their strengths and strengthen their weaknesses when all four learning pathways are utilized within a lesson. Educators also have a higher chance of students grasping the concept during initial instruction. 

Many believe the Orton-Gillingham approach is only beneficial in special education or reading intervention, but that is just not the case. Orton-Gillingham is for all students. 

Multisensory Orton-Gillingham Activities

Every student learns at their own pace, but when multisensory (also known as multimodal) strategies are utilized, students are given the opportunity to reach their full potential through various delivery styles. 

Check out these five activities that you can begin using in your classroom today!


Read it, Build it, Write it

Consider using this Orton-Gillingham activity when teaching Red Words or irregular words (i.e. ‘does’ or ‘was’). Students need to be able to master these words that do not fit the expected spelling patterns.

Start by giving each student a sheet of paper with three boxes on it with the labels “Read It,” “Build It,” and “Write It.” Additionally, you should provide your students with Red Word flashcards, block or magnetic letters, and a pencil or crayon. 

Read the irregular words in the “Read It” box aloud with your students. Students are then asked to identify what makes the word irregular and what is unexpected in the spelling pattern. Students should then use the block or magnetic letters to build out the word in the “Build It” box. Once they successfully build it out, the students should write it in the “Write It” box. 

Writing in Shaving Cream or Sand

This Orton-Gillingham activity utilizes visual, auditory, and tactile (fine motor) pathways. Take a plastic tray, cookie sheet, tabletop, or other medium and cover them with shaving cream or sand. Call out a known sound and have your students repeat the sound. Then they should use their fingers to write the letter that makes that sound while verbalizing the letter name and sound (/d/ d says /d/). By utilizing their fingers to write the letter, they are accessing thousands of nerve endings that transfer patterns to the brain. 

You can also use this strategy for whole words, but be sure they are phonetic words that follow expected spelling patterns. 

Writing in the Air

This Orton-Gillingham activity is similar to the shaving cream or sand activity but instead uses kinesthetic (gross motor) pathways. Utilize muscle memory to reinforce the letter and sound each letter makes through air writing. 

Your students should use their dominant arm for this activity and move from the shoulder to promote large muscle movement. As the students write the letter in the air, have them visualize it in a specific color while verbalizing the letter name and sound. 

Arm Tapping

This Orton-Gillingham activity helps students master irregular words through multisensory review.

Start this activity with a stack of cards containing the words your students are learning. State the words one by one while holding the card, with your non-dominant hand, in front of you. Ensure your students can see the word by making sure the card is at eye level with them. 

Have students tap left to right using their dominant hand. Right-handed students start with their right hand on their left shoulder, and left-handed students start with their left hand on their right wrist. State each letter of the word while your students tap down their arms, and once they tap out each letter, state the whole word while creating a sweeping motion down the arm. Think of this sweeping motion as underlining the word. 

Blending Boards

Blending boards can be used to prepare students for decoding multisyllabic words. Blending boards help with the practice of segmenting sounds and blending those sounds into syllables. 

Take phoneme cards and place them in CVC (consonant vowel consonant) order on the blending board. Place your hand over each card while your students sound them out, and once they state each sound, sweep your hands across the board and have your students state the word or syllable.

You can use VC patterns or start with a continuant sound versus a stopped sound with students who struggle.

Additional Resources

Bringing Orton-Gillingham strategies into your classroom creates endless opportunities for your students. For more insights and strategies, visit the links below:

Understanding Multi-Sensory Instruction

Multi-sensory instruction, such as Orton-Gillingham, typically refers to visual, auditory, and tactile/kinesthetic pathways (VATK).

According to the research of Dr. Samuel Orton, strengths or preferences will vary from student to student but using more than one method will help students better retain information.


3 Components of Multi-Sensory Instruction

Multi-sensory instruction can be broken down into these three components:

  • Visual Learning
  • Auditory Learning
  • Tactile/Kinesthetic Learning

The most critical aspect of multi-sensory instruction, such as Orton-Gillingham, is having students use more than one of their senses. The most effective strategy for children with difficulties learning to read has proven to be using multi-sensory techniques.

However, multi-sensory instruction is not just for students that have learning disabilities. According to The Ladder of Reading (Nancy Young, 2017), only 40% of learners can learn to read effortlessly or with relative ease and comprehensive instruction. That leaves 60% of all learners to benefit from instruction like Orton-Gillingham.

Orton-Gillingham helps you to tap into your students’ sensory learning pathways. That’s why multi-sensory learning and explicit instruction are the most concrete methods for teaching a new concept.


Multi-Sensory Instruction: Visual Learning

When we think about the visual component, we think about the sense of sight. Students should see visuals that represent the meaning of what is being taught.

Showing written-out directions is an example of a visual modality. Teachers can provide students with handouts, a slideshow, or other visual aids to help them follow along during a lesson.

Other visual aids include:

  • Charts
  • Flashcards
  • Graphs
  • Diagrams
  • Lists
  • Maps 
  • Pictures
  • Visual cues 
  • Written summaries


Multi-Sensory Instruction: Auditory Learning

When we think about the auditory component, we think about the sense of hearing. Students should hear the explanation of directions out loud. 

Lesson plans should include social elements like:

  • Paired reading
  • Group work
  • Experiments
  • Projects
  • Performances
  • Oral reports
  • Lectures
  • Mnemonic devices

Rhymes, beats, or songs can reinforce information. Providing recordings of lessons can also be beneficial, so students can go back and listen to the lesson more than once.


Multi-Sensory Instruction: Kinesthetic/Tactile Learning

When we think about the tactile and kinesthetic components, we think about the sense of movement and touch. Tactile instruction incorporates using hands to do something, such as manipulating objects representing a concept. Kinesthetic instruction involves moving to focus and learn.

The main difference between the two strategies is tactile components focus on fine motor movements while kinesthetic components focus on whole-body movements. So, while arm tapping would be a kinesthetic strategy, finger tapping is a tactile strategy.

Methods that support kinesthetic and tactile instruction include:

  • Providing hands-on tools
  • Giving breaks to allow students to move around
  • Using the outdoors
  • Teaching concepts through games and projects

Even if you’ve already taught a lesson using auditory and visual elements, it can be highly beneficial to reinforce that information through dance, play, or other activities.


Additional Activities for Multi-Sensory Instruction

Phonogram Review: Review sound-symbol correspondence with a rapid phonogram card drill

Simultaneous Oral Spelling: Repeat words, sound or spell words out using finger tapping, write words while saying letters, and read the completed word

Reading Words: Read a series of words and sentences that use the new pattern, as well as review words targeting skills that need particular practice


Everyone Benefits From Multi-Sensory Instruction

Our brains have developed to learn and grow in a multi-sensory environment. When teachers and educators introduce new material using multisensory learning, like Orton-Gillingham, they effectively cater to a more expansive audience of learners. 

Multi-sensory instruction is used to teach all students effectively, especially those with learning differences. By using multiple senses, all learners have more ways to connect with what’s being taught.